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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that A Reindeer's Journey offers an engaging look into the natural world but doesn't hold back from showing the harsh realities of the animal kingdom. The narration builds suspense and foreshadows potential harm to the wild reindeer herd, including the baby reindeer at the heart of the story, which could cause younger viewers angst. Animals die, but the actual killing or moment of death is never shown. There's also some frank discussion of male reindeer competing for "the favors" of the females. As a viewing experience for the whole family: The potential for learning about and appreciating the natural world outweighs the scarier or sadder moments, and the young reindeer and his mother emerge unharmed.
What's the story?
In A REINDEER'S JOURNEY, we follow the reindeer Ailo from birth through the first year of his life in snowy Lapland, in northern Finland. From the very moment of his birth, Ailo faces dangers of every kind, from predators (especially she-wolves and wolverines) to changing seasons (harsher every year due to climate change) to human behavior (deforestation and roads that interrupt reindeer routes). We watch as Ailo learns basic behaviors like walking and swimming within minutes or days of his birth, and then grows to become a member and eventual leader of the herd. The reindeer have their place among the other animals and plants of the northern Arctic ecosystem, and we're introduced to a large cast of characters by an insightful narrator (voiced by Donald Sutherland). Due largely to climate change, the wild reindeer herd's natural migratory patterns and traditional means of survival are in flux.
Is it any good?
This film has the potential to enthrall even those viewers who don't normally enjoy nature documentaries. It does so through a combination of gorgeous aerial and on-the-ground cinematography matched with an engaging narration that translates the animal world for humans. Voiced by Donald Sutherland, the omniscient narrator takes you by the hand and gently, knowingly guides you into the reindeer's world, explaining what the animals are thinking and doing and feeling. He transfers human sentiments to their kingdom in a poetic, almost philosophical way. "Do you think this world is tough?" he prods. "You're right." But it's worth living another day to experience all that life has to offer.
There's suspense: Will Ailo survive his precarious first year in the face of incessant dangers, will the wolverines attack the vulnerable domesticated reindeer, will the wolf pack catch the wild reindeer? There's also humor: Ailo mimicking the actions of a rabbit, the narrator describing the tasty lemming as the "chicken nugget of the Arctic." And there's stunning beauty in Lapland's frozen landscape, its prophetic northern lights, the fjords where the sea "carves the mountains like lace," the vast and varied animal kingdom. You can't help but wonder how the filmmakers managed to meld into this closed ecosystem and track the animals so closely, but you'll be very glad they did. In addition to A Reindeer's Journey's subtle ecological message, Ailo's fight for survival has important lessons for us all.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why this film is called A Reindeer's Journey. Is there more than one kind of journey on display in the film?
How does this documentary show that Arctic wildlife has been affected by climate change?
In what ways does the narrator give the animals human characteristics? How did the narrator help make the images more entertaining and interesting?
- In theaters: November 15, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: November 19, 2019
- Cast: Donald Sutherland
- Director: Guillaume Maidatchevsky
- Studio: Screen Media Films
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Wild Animals
- Character strengths: Perseverance
- Run time: 86 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: November 21, 2019
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